No typical workday means conservation agents train for any scenario

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – There’s no typical workday for a Missouri conservation agent. That’s why the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) prepares conservation agents for as many different situations as possible through routine training.

“We may not be able to train for every possibility, but that is our goal,” said Russell Duckworth, protection regional supervisor for MDC’s southeast region. “An agent’s work environment brings them in contact with people from all walks of life doing all types of activity; some of which is illegal and very dangerous.”

Duckworth said agents may present a school program about furbearers in the morning for children and then get called to rescue a stranded family from floodwaters in the afternoon.

“There really is no typical workday for conservation agents,” he said.

As part of their training program, the 24 conservation agents assigned to southeast Missouri met at Apple Creek Conservation Area for firearms training recently. Like other law enforcement officers, conservation agents are mandated by the Department of Public Safety’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Program (P.O.S.T.) to maintain training on an annual basis. The POST program is a regulatory program with responsibility for licensing peace officers and ensures compliance with peace officer continuing education requirements as required by state statute. Conservation agents first acquire their POST license at the Conservation Agent Training Academy in Jefferson City, before they are assigned to a county. However, training doesn’t end at the academy.

On an annual basis, agents are required to complete at least one standard firearms qualification with their sidearm during daylight hours and another in dim-light hours. Also required, is one qualification with their department issued shotgun, one with their department issued rifle, and one for any back-up firearm(s) that they carry. In addition, each agent must complete one tactical/reactive course with live-fire each year, as well as one stress inoculation course including simulation based scenarios.

Duckworth said MDC’s Defensive Tactics training includes five different blocks of training that must be completed annually. Agents must stay in shape, which is why they have fitness testing twice per year and an additional hour on health and fitness. They also take a total of 21 hours of approved first responder training every three years, and CPR refresher training every two years.

“It takes more than physical and tactical readiness to be successful as a conservation agent,” Duckworth said, which is why the agents receive annual training in legal studies, interpersonal/personal perspectives, firearms skills, technical studies and skill development.

“Officer wellbeing and mental health awareness is very important in this job,” Duckworth said. “We interact with many types of people and we must be able to recognize people in crisis, people with mental health issues, and be able to de-escalate intense situations.”

Swift water rescue is another priority for conservation agents.

“Many of our agents are involved in flood rescue operations and river projects, which takes a special skill set to ensure their safety and the safety of others,” he said. “They also have to be able to investigate a fish kill. Like I said, there’s not really a typical day for a conservation agent.”

Weather conditions play a big part in the work of conservation agents, as they work outside on a regular basis. They must be able to safely detain and arrest potentially violent people, move and load deer without assistance, walk for extensive distances in steep or muddy terrain, and conduct water rescues during high waters and floods.

They also take time to forge relationships with other public safety personnel, county officials, and community leaders to form a support network. Most counties have only one conservation agent assigned, so it’s imperative that the agent can rely on other public safety partners in the county.

“We have an outstanding group of men and women who have answered the call to protect the natural resources of our state,” Duckworth said. “As we go through our training process and I watch our team, I assure you they’re sharp, they’re solid professionals and they continue to be ready to serve Missouri.”

Learn more about the job of a conservation agent at